MN Doctor Earns Top Medical Honor after 30 Years in Africa

Updated: 02/12/2013 2:00 PM
Created: 02/09/2013 8:13 PM
By: Chris Egert

Most people not know this, but Minnesotans play a huge role in the east African country of Tanzania.  From tracking lions in the Serengeti, educating the poorest of the poor, to saving lives. 

We are starting a series of reports from Africa tonight with the story of a University of Minnesota med school graduate who will receive one of the American Medical Association's highest honors Monday for his work building a hospital in the bustling city of Arusha.

When people think of Tanzania they may picture amazing landscapes and wildlife -- ancient tribes of Maasai warriors in remote villages – and beautiful music.

But would you think of Minnesota in Africa?

You betcha, says Minnesota native, and U of M alum doctor Mark Jacobson, “Tanzania and Minnesota go back a long ways, in terms of our histories."

Why is Minnesota part of the fabric of Tanzania?

Part of that, is because of the work of the Lutheran church, and the efforts of people like Dr. Jacobson.

When Jacobson first moved to Arusha 30 years ago, he says they used to sterilize the equipment on a small cook stove.   He took us on a tour of the new modern hospital he helped in Arusha in mid-January.  Jacobson says things have changed a lot, “Our first clinic had no electricity, had no running water."

Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre has Minnesota written all over it.  A huge sign in the lobby shows the names of many Minnesota churches and individuals who have contributed to the mission over the years.

Jacobson remarked, “When I arrived here in Arusha, I just felt that I arrived at the place where I was supposed to be.”  We asked, if it was a spiritual calling, or was it because he had the medical skills to work in those conditions, or was it both?  "It was clearly both, to me, those go together," Jacobson said. 

He gave us a tour of his hospital’s packed intensive care unit.  It was filled with people of all ages.  

Dr. Jacobson and his wife live in Tanzania full time, and raised their children here.

Most agree his work here is making a difference.

Feb. 11, he's receiving the American Medical Association's Nathan Davis International Award in Medicine.  Dr. Jacobson says he’s very humbled by the honor, “It is a wonderful sense of blessing to see what has been accomplished, and to have played a role in that is very rewarding."

And while Jacobson is proud of his work with AIDS, and many other African health issues the past several decades -- his focus now is finding more qualified healthcare personnel to come here.

As it stands today, Jacobson says the Tanzanian health system has only 40% of the workers it needs to care for the sick in this developing country of 46-million people.

The University of Minnesota has medical personnel and students working in Arusha year-round:

Click here for more information on Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre:

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